Twenty four hours later, as I walked through the peaceful streets of Steelhead to retrieve my trusty old bicycle from where I had left it outside the town hall, I stopped dead in front of a shop I had never seen before and I gaped at the sign in the window.
Almost in a daze I walked into the store, evening was approaching and like the street out front the shop was empty save for several tasteful displays, a large ornately woven rug and a curious console atop a wooden plinth that was replete with blinking lights and flashing displays.
With a mouth cotton dry, I stammered the code given in the note “one two five three echo”. I had no idea what I expected to happen and certainly having the expensive rug let out a metallic ‘click’ and hiss of steam as it moved upwards slightly before sliding back to reveal a hole in the floor was low on my list. Obviously no one had informed the rug of my expectations and I leapt into the air in surprise as it moved under my feet!
Peering down the hole, I could see a ladder leading down into a cellar from which I could hear the whirs, clicks and beeps of machinery. I steeled myself and headed on down into the earthen-walled room and found it well lit by the sort of machines I had come to expect from the more creative members of the Steelhead community – the sort of machines that delight observers with their whirring and clicking and beeping and flashing and sparking without ever revealing why or for what purpose.
Beyond the machines and at the far end of the cellar I spied a metal grate across a section of wall, but I was too busy looking around for evidence of a delivery (after all, the note had been very specific that something should be left in the cellar, hadn’t it) to take much notice. My eyes settled on a pile of crates, or rather on the words stencilled onto them “FRAGILE – KEEP DRY – DO NOT DROP”, and my heart missed a beat. What on earth could be in them? What was so precious? So fragile? So, perhaps, dangerous?
Suddenly I heard a noise, a small scuttling noise, from near the metal grate and looked up just in time to see a large rat disappear through it. I moved over to investigate and found that the grate was actually a portcullis style door leading to what looked to be another room beyond. I pushed and pulled at the metal, but it would not budge. I took a chance and repeated the code in the note “one two five three echo” and was rewarded as the grating slid nosily upwards. I peered through the open doorway and gasped out loud as I saw beyond it a large tunnel! It obviously man-made and large enough for an omnibus to traverse through, in places it was ornately constructed and the entire section I could see was quite clearly very much abandoned.
After the horror of the New Babbage sewers a mere twenty fours behind me, I was somewhat reluctant to enter another subterranean realm of unknown dangers, but I saw little choice and pressed on…
To be continued…
All the “The Mysterious Note” posts can be read here.